DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
BURNET — Ashley Kamrath remembered the moment during last year’s Carry the Load at Reveille Peak Ranch when the meaning of the event really struck her. She and her fellow walkers watched a big, strapping Marine shouldering a full pack pass them by a couple of times.
But as the Marine moved by Kamrath, the emotions of friends lost or injured must have hit him. He went to his knees, tears streaming down his face.
Silently, Kamrath, her team and others went to the Marine, but they didn’t say anything or try to help him to his feet.
“We all just put our hands on him,” Kamrath said. “It was then I realized we are all family. We are all Americans, whether like that Marine we served or we didn’t serve. I didn’t serve, but this is my way of serving and serving those who did, especially those who paid the highest cost.”
Kamrath, a spokesperson for Carry the Load, said she comes across many people who have never donned a uniform and feel as if they don’t have the privilege to take part in an event such as Carry the Load, which is held during Memorial Day weekend.
“But they do, and they should,” Kamrath said. “Let’s take back Memorial Day and honor it for its true meaning.”
On May 25 at Reveille Peak Ranch, 105 CR 114 in Burnet, the local Carry the Load event will honor Memorial Day for what it is and those military members, first responders and law enforcement officers who lost their lives while serving their country. The event is 7 a.m.-6:30 p.m. and features a full slate of activities, including a military and law enforcement demonstration at 9 a.m. During the event, law enforcement teams will conduct a mock drug raid.
Other units will be on hand displaying their equipment.
The heart of the day, however, is at 10:30 a.m., when the 20.14-mile Carry the Load walk starts. But people don’t have to go the entire distance.
“It doesn’t matter how far you walk, just show up,” Kamrath said.
The event serves as a fundraiser for five area nonprofits that provide services and support for military members and their families and first responders. The nonprofits are Serve Who Serve, Folds of Honor, Comfort Crew for Military Kids, Wish for Our Heroes and F7 (a women’s veteran organization).
People can participate in a number of ways, including just showing up, enjoying the demonstrations and displays and walking a lap or two, or the entire 20.14 miles. One of the best ways to help is by joining a team or forming one, raising money and walking as a group. With more than a month before Carry the Load, people still have time to put together teams and raise money.
Folks also can donate to teams. To sign up, register or donate, go to www.carrytheload.org/austin.
Clint Bruce, a former Navy Seal, started Carry the Load several years ago after thinking about the loss of some friends one Memorial Day. He realized many Americans had forgotten the true meaning of Memorial Day and decided to do something about it. He shouldered his backpack and started walking. An older veteran noticed Bruce with the backpack and realized the former SEAL was not just out for a stroll. He asked Bruce, “Who are you carrying?” and the movement was born.
Throughout the course of the walk, many people are “carrying” someone. Kamrath said some teams and individuals wear packs or even fire hoses with names of fallen friends, family members or other heroes written on them. Others simply walk as they think of those who sacrificed everything for their country, Kamrath said.
Last year, Kamrath walked for friend Justin Pollard, 21, an Army specialist from California who died Dec. 30, 2003, in Baghdad. She recalled logging mile after mile, struggling at times because she had never tackled a distance such as this. There were times when her legs hurt, but then Kamrath would think about Pollard.
“He would give anything to be there if he could, but he made the ultimate sacrifice, so he couldn’t. His mom would give anything for him to have been there,” Kamrath said. “I would just think of him and keep walking. There is no greater motivation than to remember that somebody would change places to feel that pain.”
This year, Kamrath is walking for Army PFC Matthew England, 22, of Missouri who died June 8, 2011, in Najaf, a province of Iraq, when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.
“The unfortunate thing is there are so many people to carry,” she said.
While Carry the Load sounds somber, and it feels that way at times, Kamrath said it’s actually the opposite most of the time, especially at the end of the day when you realize what you’ve done and why you are there.
“Overall, it’s one of the most uplifting things I’ve been a part of because it’s bigger than myself,” she said. “It’s our duty to honor all these heroes. Come walk, start a team, raise some money, come volunteer or just show up. You help by just showing up and remembering what and who Memorial Day is all about.”